announcement

Help someone with useful health advice.

What is Malnutrition?

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition is a serious health condition where the body lacks the nutrients it needs. Let's take a look at the causes of this saddening illness and what happens when it befalls a person.
Naomi Sarah
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2018
Malnutrition is something that people immediately associate with undernourishment, when in fact there are two main cases involved. The two being undernutrition and overnutrition. Those who suffer from the former illness don't get sufficient nutrients and protein which are important for growth and efficient functioning. The latter is when one overeats and has a body composition that goes over their normal rate. This state of malnutrition falls under the term 'bad nourishment', which happens when the body receives either less food, too much of it, or a lot of unhealthy food.
It is also the cause of an infection, making the body leave out crucial nutrients due to its inability to absorb it. When malnutrition is the cause of diarrhea or an illness, it is known as 'secondary malnutrition'. If a diet doesn't contain the right amount of calories and protein, it leads to what is known as 'protein-energy malnutrition' which include diseases like marasmus and kwashiorkor. Malnutrition is a common feature among people located in North Africa, especially young ones and newborns.
Causes
The causes of this illness vary depending on situational or health-related factors.
  • Dysphagia
  • Anorexia
  • Pancreatitis
  • Fasting over a long period of time
  • Physically disabled
  • Infection of some sort
  • Trauma
  • Cancer
  • Malabsorption of nutrients
  • Altering of taste buds
  • Oral health problems
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Coeliac disease
  • Certain medications
  • Depression
  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Fractures/burns
  • Anxiety
  • Poverty
  • Starvation
  • Bulimia
  • Diabetes mellitus
Types
These are the different diseases that one can suffer from that lead one to experience malnutrition-like symptoms.
Marasmus
This happens when a person goes through a period of starvation, leading to rapid weight loss and feeling weak/drained most of the time.
Beriberi
This takes place due to a vitamin deficiency of vitamin B1 and thiamine.
Scurvy
Scurvy comes about due to a deficiency of vitamin C, making the immune system weak and susceptible to infections.
Kwashiorkor
This results in a prominent distended abdomen. It occurs due to a protein deficiency.
Pellagra
This comes about due to a deficiency of vitamin B3 and niacin.
Rickets
Causes one to have weak, brittle bones, brought on by a deficiency of vitamin D.
Symptoms
The symptoms are highly noticeable, especially in cases where the condition has taken a complete control over one's system.
  • Thyroid gland becomes swollen and grows abnormally large.
  • There are lines around the mouth that overtime turn into scars.
  • A mucous membrane sticks slightly out of the mouth and is visible.
  • Lips are reddened with cracks in the corner of the mouth, which is accompanied by sores.
  • Tongue turns red.
  • Taste buds start to disappear.
  • Eyelids are swollen, where the outer layer of the iris goes soft.
  • Eyes take on a white clear look, making blood capillaries hard to see.
  • Eyelids can get thicker.
  • Eyes turn lackluster in appearance.
  • Yellow scaling above the upper lip.
  • Sores appear in the mouth.
  • Fungus patches form on the tongue.
  • Memory becomes hazy.
  • Tiredness is a common sensation.
  • Muscle loss becomes evident.
  • The body takes on a skeletal look.
  • Complexion turns yellow.
  • Skin crinkles due to a case of xerosis.
  • Loss of weight.
  • Teeth start to decay.
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Dizziness
  • Bones become brittle.
  • A case of follicular hyperkeratosis takes place wherein the skin looks like it has goose pimples, but they don't go away.
  • Spooned nails.
  • Edema
  • Wounds heal at a slow rate.
  • Joint and bone pain.
  • Diarrhea
  • Growth retardation.
  • Pigmentation loss in the hair.
Diagnosis
In order to diagnose this problem, doctors carry out certain tests and examinations to conclude if the patient is suffering from malnutrition and why.
  • Psychological problems are evaluated as the reason for this illness occurring in the first place.
  • Urine and blood samples are taken.
  • Weight loss causes are examined.
  • Any underlying illness that causes malnutrition is looked for.
  • Body fat distribution is determined.
  • BMI is calculated.
  • X-rays are taken to evaluate bone density.
  • X-rays are done also for the heart and lungs to note if there's any damage.
  • After the evaluation is complete, the patient is put on a nutritional diet to regain what he's lost. He's examined for improvement and kept an eye on if malnutrition was a cause brought on by himself.